Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication
Interactive science series
CRITICAL THINKING - an important aspect of becoming a true scientist
Q: You emphasize on critical thinking. How can that be done? Will science help us in doing this?
Q: I am particularly concerned about the process of developing critical thinking. How can that be developed to think like you do?
Krishna: Glad you people asked me this question.
Everyone thinks; it is human nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself,
is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or down-right prejudiced. Yet the
quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depend precisely
on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is detrimental to science. It also effects the standard of our living. But still several people, I observed, think, just because they did graduation, PG and Ph.D. in science, they can think scientifically. This itself is lopsided thinking. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.
Therefore, Critical thinking is a part of science training. If you don't get this training properly, your science education is incomplete and useless.
You just need to commit yourself to remaining rigorous, clear-headed and honest in your analysis while conducting science.
Critical thinking is highly disciplined, knowledge oriented, analytical well directed ( informed by genuine evidence and data), monitored and a corrective process. It follows rigorous standards of excellence.
You have to free yourself from cognitive biases and fallacies that try to influence your thought processes. Cognitive-distortions are bothersome too while doing the highest form of thinking. These are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true.
You have to try to be completely neutral and highly rational. Only real scientific facts, genuine data and evidence should help you in this process and nothing else.
Keen observation, acquiring full knowledge on the subject, analysis, interpretation, reflection, thorough evaluation, inference, explanation, problem solving, and decision making are the vital stages of critical thinking.
The steps that should be followed are ...
First you should develop the ability to understand the information you are being presented with correctly. You need full and correct prior knowledge on it to do this. It is also the ability to connect pieces of gathered/observed information/data together in order to determine what the intended meaning of the information was meant to represent. Try to understand the logical connections between ideas/data presented.
Then try to analyse it with a neutral mind - remove all the influences that might screw up your thought process and understanding. These are cultural, religious, political, emotional and ideological ones. Just because you love or respect somebody - that somebody need not be always right. Or just because you hate somebody that person need not always be wrong. Just because you believe in something doesn't make it a fact. THIS REALIZATION IS VITAL FOR CRITICAL ANALYSIS.
Identify, construct and evaluate arguments. We live in interesting times…times when misinformation, alternative facts, and opinion carry equal or more weight than empirical data. Therefore, search for evidence, facts, or knowledge by identifying relevant and highly reliable sources and gathering objective, subjective, historical, and current data from only those sources. Take into consideration only the data and facts of information exactly as they are presented to you or come to your notice - forget rest of the things. In order to do this you should develop the ability to understand and recognize what elements you will need in order to determine an accurate conclusion or hypothesis from the information you have at your disposal. You should be able to discard the useless things without any hesitation. This selection process is extremely important to have an accurate judgement.
Refine the ability to evaluate the credibility of statements or descriptions of a person’s conclusion or observations presented/noted in order to measure the validity of the information.
Seek clarification if the information presented is posing problems in understanding. Never hesitate to question the information if found faulty. Try alternative or information presented by others too while analyzing.
Reason thoroughly using all the knowledge available to you on the matter. Detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning and rectify them.
Draw inferences or conclusions that are supported or justified by genuine evidence and evidence only. Judge according to established professional or scientific rules or criteria using only scientific methods and methodology.
You should have complete clarity and perspective about the information after analyzing it thoroughly. Fuzzy or hesitative conclusions denote erroneous process. You should be able to transfer this to others with precision too.
But one should also realize that this fact finding process should be open to correction if new data arrives and demands it. And that the facts that helped you to arrive at a conclusion this moment are only provisional and falsifiable.
You should be able to solve the problems you face or help others using this information creatively. Identify the relevance and importance of ideas/information and how they could be correctly used.
Once trained or learned, this process should be with you 24X365X100 influencing your every thought, action and move in your whole life. There shouldn't be any exceptions.
It should sink into your body, enter each cell, mind and become a part of you. If this state of mind is reached, you become a true scientist.
Being a scientist is a state of mind, not a profession!
Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa's poem on scientific thinking ...
Acquire scientific knowledge
Resort to clutter abridge
Go for cognition haulage
A good Comprehension flowage
Should become your college
Get a smart thinker badge!
Sense organs shouldn't be your only perceptor
Use grey matter as your insight creator
Science facts as guides of your truth receptor
Neutrality as a leading factor
Critical thinking as misinformation interceptor
Become one of the world's best scholar!
Some Qs on this aspect and my replies....
Q: What is the difference between reasoning and critical thinking?
Krishna: You use reasoning to derive conclusions from assumptions. You use critical thinking to question the validity of the assumptions.
There are two types of reasoning:
(1) the one that is attached to emotions and beliefs
(2) the one that is detached and neutral
An example: You have a very young daughter whom you love more than your life. If one day she behaves very badly during a party, you try to understand with your loving mind and think that as she is still a child she doesn’t know how to behave properly and she would definitely learn things when she grows up and excuse her! Here your love for her shaped up your behaviour! As an unemotional person I would say that even if the child is young, she has to be taught how to behave in a public place with a mild warning after understanding her innocence so that she doesn’t repeat it and help her correct herself.
There is another aspect to this type of reasoning: Motivation. You want to forget your ex-girlfriend. So you try to reason that you would be better off without her by recollecting all her negative qualities!
This biased analysis of anything is due to the now well-known psychological phenomenon of motivated reasoning. Research suggests that all people tend to seek out information that confirms (or at least does not challenge) the conclusions they want to draw on a given topic. In other words, we will work to discredit or avoid information that might require us to reconsider our pre-existing beliefs. Motivated reasoning is particularly likely when taking the other side might create conflict within our social circle—like religious or political groups.
Likewise if you are attached to a belief (or emotion or group), it fogs your reasoning power out of fear, hope, love or respect and affects your behaviour. A mind that is agitated by belief can never be free and therefore never know truth.
Therefore, science asks us to come out of these attached things and do neutral reasoning. That is where critical thinking helps you to correct your reasoning process and therefore is placed at a very high position in the thought process.
Q: You are a critical thinker. Can you explain how your thought process goes?
Krishna: Let me give an example.
You and your friend both say two things that oppose each other in front of me. Let us assume you are my friend and your friend is a total stranger to me. Now I will have to consider both things and accept the right one. Right?
Now the first thing I do is erase both of you from my mind. Only what you people said remains in the arena.
Before proceeding further, I want to say this: I have already removed all the irrational things that influence my mind long back. It is an almost clean slate now. Now I used the word 'almost' here. Because something still remains on it. What is that something? Data and fact based scientific knowledge and evidence based facts. These are necessary tools to evaluate things neutrally.
Now I also remove the connections, if any, between what you said and culture, religion, politics, emotions etc.
Now what remains is just two opposing statements.
Then I analyse each one thoroughly using my knowledge, facts, reason, questioning everything that occurred to my mind at each step of the way.
Only the answers that satisfy all the questions posed by my analytical mind will be taken into account and the rest are discarded mercilessly. Anything that doesn't fit the facts and evidence will also be thrown out.
Finally what remains is the right one! And I chose it because it with stood the critical analysis of my mind and came out with flying colours.
The person who said it doesn't matter at all still. Only the right statement matters. My friend or foe or my relative or colleague or an unknown person who made it is immaterial. Its affiliation is still unimportant.
Only the statement, that has all the right features shines in my mind.
I feel extremely satisfied with this analysis. My mind feels light, free and elated.
Shall I tell you a secret? A biased thinking, irrational thinking is a great burden on any mind. Suppose if you choose the one made by your friend because you like him, even though his statement is not correct, even if your mind knows it is biased, it tries to suppress this fact, denies this fact that you are partial, and tries to project a right picture before the world taking the help of lies and all those negative things that strain your mind a lot.
Several people, especially the politicians, told me this. They have to undergo a lot of stress because they have to support their party's and colleagues' stand even if it is not correct! They have to answer several Qs posed by the media and their colleagues.
As I dissociate myself from all such burdens and refuse to get associated with anything, I am stress free. And need I add I am extremely happy?
Yes, critical thinking makes you very happy and satisfied! Because you take only the right decision overcoming all the negative things that affect it!
Read these articles that might help you ...
Q: Is critical thinking really important?
Krishna: Yes, in science. To get facts established.
If you really want to live in reality, yes. If you want to deal with only genuine knowledge, yes.
In mathematics ‘You Cannot Be Lied To’!
said a mathematician recently. If you are a critical thinker, nobody can influence you in anyway! You become completely independent. You cannot be cheated, you cannot be lied to. A thing is true or not true, and there is this notion of clarity on which you can base yourself.
It takes you to higher levels of mind matters.
Q: Can a person be completely neutral?
Krishna: I try to be neutral, always. As I am proud of my critical thinking abilities, I think I am neutral, well most of the time. :)
Recently one person told me , " Ma'am, you are talking like both the persons whose psychology we 're discussing. If you are neutral, you shouldn't talk like anyone, you should keep a distance from both".
"What?!", I asked him, "I can view things from both points of view and analyse the situation from each person's point of view. That doesn't mean I accept their views, or anyone's. I only accept things if my critical thinking says this is the right one because of these undeniable and indisputable reasons and evidence". Being able to see the problem from all angles, not one, is the right way to deal with a problem and providing neutral analysis. After neutral analysis, when I accept one thing because that is what I think is right, which might make others think I am biased but in reality, I am not!
I refuse to join any groups, parties, accept any ideology just because I want to be always neutral. I try my best to control my emotions too. I came out of conditioning of my mind too.
Yes, It is possible for me to be neutral because I am a critical thinker. Yes, when one is a critical thinker, it is possible to be completely neutral.
But still if there are any hidden biases that are still influencing me, I try my best to control them. I think 99% neutrality is better than 50% neutrality any day. And I am 99% neutral. Test me if you want!
Q: Are all scientists critical thinkers?
Krishna: The answer, disappointingly, is NO! Recently I watched a debate on hypnotism online. There, participants were asked to debate whether hypnotism is real science.
An American neuro-scientist said it was and gave several examples, which I felt were not soundly scientific. On the other hand a graphic artist from Serbia tore into this explanation and with sound science. I was literally hypnotized by this artist's critical thinking abilities!
Actually my experience should be the other way round. But sadly it wasn't! People were let down with the scientist's argument. His 'beliefs' were projected as facts, with the help of lopsided and inconclusive research. But people watching it gave all their up votes to the scientist! "Confirmation Bias"!
Only people who are critical thinkers can differentiate between lopsided arguments and the sound ones. Only they can understand things as they are without biases effecting them.
I should be supporting my colleague here. I should be opposing the artist. But I didn't!
Like everybody else I should be looking for confirmation of my biases. But I didn't!
Highly scientifically advanced America should be given the up vote than less developed Serbia. But I didn't!
Well experienced and older scientist should be given more weightage than less experienced and younger artist. But I didn't do that!
More good looking scientist should have got more appreciation. But I didn't do that either!
Only the soundness of the argument, evidence and facts shaped up my thinking and analysis. Yes, I was neutral and completely unbiased.
My up vote went to the artist from Serbia! I was the only person who did this! And I am proud of it!
And there is a thing called Nobel_diseaseThe Nobel disease is the apparent tendency of Nobel Prize-winning scientists to endorse or perform "research" in pseudoscientific areas in their later years, generally (though not always) after having won the esteemed prize for some legitimate scientific achievement.
Q: What are the characteristics of critical thinkers?
Q: What is the difference between rational thinking and critical thinking?
Krishna: Watch this video that gives a rough difference...
And read this article:
Q:Given that today's young generation has access to facts and truth from all possible information sources, how true is the fact that the future Indian society will have be less superstitious and have less taboos?
A culturally, religiously, emotionally and politically conditioned mind processes that information differently from that of a neutral and scientifically oriented critical thinking mind.
Most human minds cannot tolerate cognitive dissonance. Therefore they stick to their original path of thinking that gives less discomfort and avoid new information that goes against their beliefs and conditioning.
People start using the information they have or get to support their beliefs and create pseudo-science in the process.
There is another aspect too. Modern means lots of chaos and competition where a person’s mind has less control over this situation. Such situations make people take temporary external emotional support such as irrational beliefs.
Unless a person is mentally very strong, a highly critical thinker who has the courage to come out of a conditioned mind, swim against the tide, and can stand on his/her own, has lots of knowledge to process information correctly, it is not possible for anybody to come out the holes s/he lives in just like that only because a new day has dawned with lots of promise. You should have the capacity to utilize it correctly.
Majority of the Indian youth don’t fit this bill, sorry.
At the stage of understanding the problem itself, confirmation bias interferes leave alone solving it.
Let me give examples. We, the people of scientific community, fight superstitions and pseudo-science. We want to avoid problems caused by them or solve them.
When we tell people that black magic is a superstition and astrology and homeopathy are pseudo-science and when we show evidence, people who practice them or believe in them even refuse to consider the evidence provided. They think what we give as evidence is just our opinion. Or they provide lame excuses like we have to broaden science to understand what they treat as science as science or as our kundali’s (astrological charts) are so strong, we would never face the bad consequences of black magic so we don’t understand them.
They do all sorts of things, argue as much as they can using silly reasons but never, I repeat never, consider what we show as evidence.
Some go even further and use the evidence we provide to confirm what they preach or practice by twisting it to suit their beliefs creating pseudo-science in the process. And people don’t know what the real facts are and whom to believe. They just blindly believe in these people who propagate these irrational beliefs and pseudo-science which again confirm their biases.
We are fighting very tough battles because of these confirmation biases. As long as people don’t come out of them, there won’t be any real progress and relief from suffering.
We want to add here that people themselves are creating their own problems by refusing to come out of their biases and suffering unnecessarily.